On advice from the front desk agent, I opt to wander the byzantine streets of Hanoi nestled in the old quarter of the city, soaking in the cool air and the moist breeze. Although Hanoi is rapidly developing, divisions in wealth are still heir apparent, shaded though they are in the neon of its nighttime glow. If monotony thrives where nothing changes: Hanoi is a safe bet for decades of excitement.
The variety and excitement of the street life is never ending, vespas packed in blocks and rows, beer gardens spilling into the streets, ramshackle homes, dank alleyways of swamp, the green light of storefronts illuminating the banyan trees, casinos, restaurants, boutiques, general stores, tattoo parlors—even a dentist’s office in the midst of an incisor picking. All is showcased on the road.
But, for the number of people playing cards, laughing, eating bowls of beef and chicken phở, I see many ambling about, but almost no one crossing the street. And this is alarming. In theory, the route should not be difficult, but the streets of Hanoi are far from a pedestrians paradise. Sprawling, seemingly unplanned roads collide: a two way street merges into three that merges into seven. But the force at which these vehicles travel together is downright frightening, a literal onslaught of motos and horns much akin to killer bees. A single streetlight regulates the flow that most motorists ignore. Of those who do mind its perfunctory authority, a complete stop is out of the question. At these levels, one couldn’t regulate it if they wanted to.
The relentless unofficial business of the moto-taxis makes much more sense now. Those motos don’t navigate the road; they pilot its culture. They know the dictates of sound judgment: like how to shoulder the road into oncoming traffic avoiding the inefficiency of circling the block. They know how to conduct pavement rides, swerve, cradle babies, and text/talk/drive.
And the moto-taxis do well.
Their knowledge of the roads—their key to the epistemological certainty of the streets—is what, in the end, you will pay for. It’s pure madness, but there’s no proof of the madness. Nothing is happening, accidents are not occurring. People get from Point A to Point B with almost zero effort. The mass of Hanoian motos moves as one, not killer bees, but the murmurations of starlings.
The thought comes to mind: what would people back home believe when a critical mass of vespas mauled and—literally—tired me to tiny bits? It this really how I will go out? Would their eventually be a “why did the chicken cross the road joke about me?” And would it be funny? Do they have those jokes in Vietnam?
Fortunately, I didn’t stand there pondering oblivion too long. A fellow pedestrian, an older Vietnamese woman about half my size, sidestepped me straight into the road, looking neither direction for oncoming traffic. To my complete disbelief, every vehicle stopped for her, or California-stopped for her, as she gently roamed across. Knowing this was my only chance, I jumped in after her, mimicking her every move. To the motorists, it must have looked like we were dancing, a synchronized shuffle through the mayhem.
People always say this after they’ve done it, but, sure enough, the other side was closer than I thought.
Posted By Jefferson Seth McIntyre
Posted Jun 25th, 2014